Detachment and Freedom
Muslim Sufi tradition has the story of two monks who stayed with a poor
farmer. The farmer had only one possession, a goat. He was very proud
to share the goat's milk with his guests. Before leaving, the younger
monk reminded his companion, "will you not pray a blessing on the
generous householder?" And the older monk prayed, "May his
goat die." The moral of the story was the man's attachment to his
goat was blocking him from enlightenment and full freedom.
French have a story about a millionaire in his palace who spent his
days counting his gold. Beside the palace was a poor cobbler who spent
his days singing as he repaired people's shoes. The joyful singing irritated
the rich man. One day he decided to give some gold coins to the cobbler.
At first the cobbler was overjoyed, and he took the coins and hid them.
But then he would be worried and go back to check if the coins were
still there. Then he would be worried in case someone had seen him,
and he would move the coins and hide them in another place. During all
this, he ceased to sing. Then one day he realized that he had ceased
to sing because of the gold coins. He took them back to the rich man
and said, "take back your coins and give me back my songs."
Again the message is that attachment to riches can take away our freedom
same thing happens in life. A man buys a video camera, then goes on
a vacation so that he has things to photograph. And he spends his time
looking for objects to record rather than enjoying his vacation. A wealthy
man buys a yacht or a race horse because that is the status symbol of
the moment. Then he has to make time to go yachting or racing even if
he really doesn't enjoy these things. Today, many are equipped with
the latest communication gadgets, from E-mail to cellular phones. This
doesn't mean, however, that communication is improving. Being able to
reach any part of the globe does not mean that we are communicating
better with each other.
rich build walls around their homes and around themselves; the poor
have no need for such walls. The poor can take in a guest easily and
let him sleep on the floor. The rich have to do a security check first
lest the person turn out to be a thief or someone who would dirty their
is written into the first story of our religious history. Abraham, 99
and Sarah, 89, are so surprised to have a child at that age that they
call him Isaac, which means laughter. But soon, Abraham is asked to
sacrifice his only son, Isaac. However, God does not demand that Abraham
sacrifice his son; all he asks is that he is willing to do so.
that is what today's Gospel story is also about. A good young man comes
to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. He protests
that he has kept all of the commandments, so Jesus tells him, "go
sell what you have and give it to the poor, then come, follow me."
But his face falls at these words and he goes away sad, for he is a
man of great wealth. Jesus looks around and tells His disciples, "how
hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"
issue here is not so much the acquisition of riches as the attachment
to them. A person may have millions and be quite detached. Another may
have only a goat and be very attached. There is no sorrow where there
is no treasure to lose. If we are detached from our possessions, our
good name, our prestige, there is no one who can hurt us.
Unfortunately, a lot of our prayer is aimed at getting things rather than at becoming detached from things. We pray to try to get God on our side so God will give us what we want, what we think we need. Often He, in his love, denies us what we need to make us detached, but we fail to see His blessing and love in this.
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